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Cyberbullying, Human rights and bystanders

Commission Commission – General
Friday 14 December, 2012

About bullying

What is bullying?

Bullying can happen anywhere: at school, at work, at home, on social networking sites such as Facebook, on mobile phones, in sporting teams or between neighbours. Bullying involves someone (or a group of people) with more power than you, repeatedly and intentionally using negative words and/or actions against you, which causes you distress and risks your wellbeing.[1] Bullying has many faces and includes the use of emerging technologies.

This behaviour may include:[2]

  • keeping someone out of a group
  • acting in an unpleasant way near someone
  • giving nasty looks, making rude gestures, calling names, being rude and impolite, spreading stories, rumours and teasing
  • 'mucking about' that goes too far
  • any form of harassment or discrimination based, for instance, on disability, gender, sex, race or religion
  • hurting someone physically or stalking.

Signs that someone is being bullied include changes in their sleeping/ eating patterns or personality (e.g. becomes withdrawn or aggressive), refusing to discuss what is wrong or hurting them and withdrawing from group and other peer activities.[3]

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying using technology. For instance, it involves using the internet, mobile phone or other technology like a camera to bully and so hurt or embarrass someone.[4] It can happen anonymously, at any hour, anywhere and reach a vast audience.[5]

Cyberbullying has a number of unique features:[6]

  • it allows for a potentially infinite audience to view or participate
  • it is often anonymous as perpetrators can hide behind false identities
  • it has a permanency of expression as information put online can be difficult to remove, and may be recorded and archived
  • it may be difficult to escape from the bullying as people often use technology everyday and in the case of mobile phones can be constantly contactable
  • content can be duplicated easily
  • content is often searchable.

What does cyberbullying look like?

Bullying on the internet or using mobiles can include:[7]

  • being sent mean and/or anonymous text messages
  • receiving nasty or threatening messages through social networking sites
  • people sending photos or videos of you to other people with the intention of embarrassing you
  • people spreading rumours about you
  • people intimidating or harassing you
  • people trying to stop you from communicating with others
  • people hacking into, or stealing passwords to access your online accounts (e.g. Facebook or My Space)
  • any form of communication that is discriminatory.

Why is cyberbullying a growing concern?

We are all using the internet, mobile phones and other technologies more than ever. While these technologies bring many benefits to our lives, such as connecting with friends, entertainment, research and accessing support services, their growing use means that cyberbullying poses increased risks and dangers, particularly for young people. In Australia cyberbullying affects at least one in ten students.[8]

In June 2010 young people aged 14 -17 years old had the highest rate of internet use in Australia with 91% spending time online every week.[9]

Level of internet use
14-17 year olds
Total population 14 years and older
Heavy users (>15 hrs per week)
Medium users (>7- 15 hrs per week)
Light users (<7 hrs per week)
No use in an average week
9 %


[1] Drawn from Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), Teens Tips and Advice, Cyberbullying. At (viewed 8 February 2011); Drawn from definition on the National Centre Against Bullying website. At (viewed December 2010).
[2] Drawn from the NSW Department of Education and Training definition. NSW Public Schools Anti–bullying. At;Drawn from National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB). At (viewed December 2010).
[3] Drawn from the National Centre Against Bullying, What is bullying? At (viewed December 2010).
[4] Netsafe,Cyberbullying advice for young people. At (viewed December 2010).
[5] D Cross, T Shaw, I Hearn, M Epstein, H Monks, L Lester, L Thomas, Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS), Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University (2009); There is no agreed cyberbullying definition due to the changing nature of technology and contexts in which it occurs. A working definition is: bullying and harassment of others by means of new electronic technologies, primarily mobile phones and the internet. See the Intergovernmental Framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology-COST ACTION IS0801,Cyberbullying: coping with negative and enhancing positive uses of new technologies, in relationships in educational settings. At (viewed 14 October 2010).
[6] S Shariff, Confronting Cyber-bullying (2009), p 44; danah boyd*, "Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications." in Zizi Papacharissi (ed) Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (2010), pp 39-58; boyd, danah, Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning: Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham), MIT Press. (2010), p 9. *note danah boyd’s name is spelt in lower case
[7] Ibid.
[8] See the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s Bullying Hurts brochure. At (viewed December 2010).
[9] ACMA,,‘Australia in the digital economy, shift to the online environment’, Communications Report 2009-10 Series, (June 2010) p 13.